Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
I was surprised and grateful for the wide readership and support on an article I wrote here at the Register recently: Comfort Catholicism Has Got to Go. In it I argue that clergy and other leaders in the Church need to retool and prepare God’s people for increasing persecution and martyrdom. I note that the Church, both clergy and lay, is largely unprepared to meet the coming challenges to our faith and religious liberty, many of which are already here.
But firmly resisting or refusing to comply with immoral and unjust laws, whatever the consequences, is simply not in the mindset of most Catholics who have long been content (and even counseled) to get along with everyone, to be pleasant and nice, and to blend into the American experience.
The strong emphasis has been that God is here to comfort us and would surely not ask things of us that are too difficult. Martyrdom (both red and white) has usually been thought a thing of the past or for other nations — but not here, not in America. I argue that those days are vanishing, if not already substantially gone.
Some, predictably, responded that I am alarmist and that things are not so bad. I wonder if they are living in a parallel universe, or some isolated place. Ask believing photographers, caterers, bakers and pharmacists if things are bad or not. Ask healthcare providers and healthcare workers if things are just fine. Ask employers who provide healthcare benefits. Many of them have already been compelled to act against their religious beliefs or be forced out of business.
If things are “not that bad”, why are we being summoned to courts, threatened with fines by government, and being forced as Christians to sue for our rights? What are pharmacists in Washington to do who are required by law to provide abortifacient “emergency contraception”? The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal. Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent spoke of this refusal — and the law that now stands — as “an ominous sign” and goes on to show how those who are concerned at the steady erosion of religious liberty have good cause to be concerned.
We are winning some of our cases, but other significant cases in places like Washington State and California have delivered serious blows to religious liberty and seek to further marginalize Christian churches and groups from participation in the national conversation and commonwealth that is theirs as American citizens. The Washington case has no appeal and a Catholic pharmacist has to risk losing his livelihood by refusing to comply.
I argue that a pharmacist should take that risk. But we in the Church have not really prepared our people for this. It is time to do so. We must resist the temptation to hide our faith under jargonistic “solutions” that are usually a mere compromise with evil and unjust laws.
THE 5 STAGES OF PERSECUTION
For those who think examples listed here are just odd situations and not really indicative of where we are as a culture, I would like to represent something I wrote on almost four years ago: The Five Stages of Persecution. The five stages are not unique to me. They come from the world of sociology and political theory and are commonly observed in cultures that eventually turn against segments within them.
As you will see, persecutions do not come out of nowhere. They build in a culture over time until they boil over into often-horrific acts wherein those who inflict them actually feel justified in what they do.
As we consider the descriptions of the five stages, it is hard to argue that we are not well into the fourth stage here in America and edging into the final stage.
Here, then, are the five stages. My commentary focuses on religious persecution.
Stage 1. Stereotype the targeted group
To stereotype means to repeat without variation, to take a quality or observation of a limited number and generalize it to describe the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on the observation of a limited sample.
And thus as the 1960s and 1970s progressed, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians were often caricatured in the media as “Bible thumpers,” simpletons, haters of science, hypocrites, self-righteous, old-fashioned, and backwards.
Catholics, in particular, were also accused of having neurotic guilt and a hatred of or aversion to sexuality. We were denounced as a sexist institution filled with clergy who were sexually repressed, homosexuals, or pedophiles. We were labeled an authoritarian institution stuck in the past, one with too many restrictive rules.
Basically, as the stereotype goes, Catholics and Bible-believing Christians are a sad, angry, boring, backward, repressed lot. To many who accept the stereotype, we are a laughable — even tragic — group caught in a superstitious past, incapable of throwing off the “shackles” of faith.
To be sure, not everyone engages in this stereotyping to the same degree, but those are the basic refrains. And the general climate of this sort of stereotyping sets the foundation for the next stage.
Stage 2. Vilify the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct
As the stereotyping grew in intensity, Catholics and Christians who did not toe the line in the cultural revolution were described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary, and just plain mean and basically bad people.
The history of the Church is also described myopically as little more than a litany of bad and repressive behavior as we conducted crusades and inquisitions, and hated Galileo and all of science. Never mind that there might be a little more to the story: that the Church founded universities and hospitals, that many of the great scientists were priests, that the Church was a patron of the arts, and that she preached a gospel that brought order and civilization to divided and barbaric times in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. The critics won’t hear any of that — or if they do, they’ll give the credit to anyone or anything except the Church and the faith.
As with any large group, individual Catholics and other Christians will manifest some negative traits — but stereotyping, vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of some to be common to all is unjust.
Yet all of this has the effect of creating a self-righteous indignation toward believers and of making anti-Catholic and anti-Christian attitudes a permissible bigotry for many today.
Stage 3. Marginalize the targeted group’s role in society
Having established the (false) premise that the Church and the faith are very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the critics proceed in the next stage to relegate the role of the Church to the margins of society.
To many in secularized culture, religion is seen as something that must go. They will perhaps let us have our hymns, etc. within the four walls of our churches, but the faith must be banished from the public square.
In this stage it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly, or in any way bring his or her Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy. Nativity sets must go. Out with Christmas trees. Even the colors red and green during the “Holiday Season” are forbidden in many public schools!
Do not even think of mentioning Jesus or of publicly thanking him in your valedictory address; you could very well have a judge forbid you to do so under penalty of law. You may thank Madonna the singer, but not the Madonna.
The LGBTQIA club is welcome to set up shop and pass out rainbow-colored condoms at the local high school, but Christians had better hit the road. No Bibles or pamphlets had better see the light of day anywhere in the school building. Separation of Church and State, you know…
Stage 4. Criminalize the targeted group or its works
Can someone say HHS Mandate or Washington State Pharmacy Case?
But even prior to these and other egregious attempts to violate our religious liberty there have been many other times we have had to go to court to fight for our right to practice our faith openly. An increasing amount of litigation is being directed against the Church and other Christians for daring to live out our faith.
In addition to some of the cases noted above, some jurisdictions have sought to compel Catholic hospitals and pro-life clinics to provide information about or referrals for abortion and just like the pharmacists above, to provide “emergency contraception” (i.e., the abortifacient known as the morning-after pill). Several branches of Catholic Charities have been de-certified from doing adoption work because they will not place children with gay couples. In 2009, the State of Connecticut sought to regulate the structure, organization, and running of Catholic parishes. And recently a number of Christian valedictorians in various states have suffered legal injunctions when it was discovered that they planned to mention God in their addresses. (More details can be found here.)
Some of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts, but the number and frequency of the lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them impose a huge burden. It is clear that attempts to criminalize Christian behavior is a growth sector in this culture and it signals the beginning of the steady erosion of religious liberty.
Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct, in their work to separate the practice of the faith from the public square.
Stage 5. Persecute the targeted group outright
If current trends continue, Christians — especially religious leaders — may not be far from facing heavy fines and/or incarceration.
Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.
In this country there are greater provisions for free speech, but as we have seen, there is a steady erosion of our religious liberty and many Catholic dioceses are very familiar with having to spend long periods in court defending basic religious liberty. The persecution takes forms that are increasingly heavy from the loss of employment, lawsuits, large fines, and ultimately jail for those who refuse to comply.
Unlikely you say? Alarmist? Well, stages one through four are pretty well in place. One may wish to “whistle past the graveyard,” but it looks like we’re pretty well set for stage five. You decide.
This is why we need to prepare.
For those who think God would not allow or demand this of us, remember: God has slated some ages, and place and people for persecution since day one. Jesus did not exempt himself from this and, enduring the world’s hatred told us we would be hated too (e.g. John 15:18-25). And the Book of Revelation says:
If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people. (Revelation 13:10)
So the Lord does appoint some to suffering and martyrdom of various degrees, for the sake of the faith, and asks us to endure. None of us seeks this, but to some of us in this more militantly secular culture, persecution with increasing intensity and frequency will come. But never forget: Those who suffer for proclaiming the faith, and for living it boldly, are of highest honor in the Kingdom of God.
Stand firm in your faith.